It’s not too early to talk about The Day After. Or The Week After. Or whatever comes next after congressional opponents of the Iran deal fail to block the agreement.
Number crunchers are saying, barring a miracle or last-minute revelation, that opponents do not have the votes in Congress to withstand a presidential veto. They may not even have the votes in the Senate to block a Democratic filibuster, which would prevent a Senate floor debate on the plan.
That will be awkward for the large Jewish organizations that staked so much on their opposition. Whether or not they represent the consensus of Jewish opinion on the deal, they signaled to the White House, lawmakers, and the public that the “Jews” didn’t want this deal to happen. Now that it will, they have to pivot and explain to their own constituents what happens next, and to limit the damage from a campaign that took on a sitting president — and a political party representing the vast majority of their constituents — and lost.
Here’s a list of the challenges ahead — and a reading list by and about people who have started thinking about them.
Improving the deal
Even supporters of the deal acknowledged its flaws, and some supporters and opponents have suggested Jewish communal energy would have been better spent trying to improve the deal rather than trying to kill it. Robert Satloff, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has been skeptical of the deal but has kept his qualms nonpartisan and his political opinions to himself.
In an exchange with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Satloff provides 10 questions he’d like to see the president address as he goes about implementing the deal. These include “spell[ing] out the penalties Iran would suffer for violations of the agreement,” and detailing “what sort of new sanctions you have in mind…if our intelligence agencies reported that Iran was using its sanctions-relief windfall to transfer large sums (or expensive weapons systems) to its allies and terrorist proxies.” In a separate Atlantic article, Satloff outlines ways in which the administration can improve the deal without reopening negotiations.
Even congressional supporters have called for improving the deal. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) suggests how: “The United States can and should work to strengthen this framework. It should direct a massive intelligence program to back up the [agreement] in the first 15 years and to strengthen the IAEA’s monitoring after 15 years. It should lead the international community in establishing, for the years after the bright lines on uranium enrichment expire, the size and enrichment level of Iran’s uranium stockpile that would constitute a violation of Iran’s commitment. And the United States needs to make clear that such a violation would have strong consequences.”
Adds Merkley: “In addition, the United States should be vigilant in monitoring Iran’s potential use of cash released from frozen accounts to increase support to terrorist groups and should amplify efforts to counter Iranian activities that destabilize the region.
Benjamin Netanyahu risked the bipartisan nature of Israel relations on quashing the Iran deal, aligning himself with the Republican Party and recruiting American-Jewish leaders in what is turning out to have been a scorched-earth campaign. Ari Shavit, in Ha’aretz, suggests that Washington isn’t listening to Netanyahu’s reasonable objections to the Iran deal precisely because he “insisted on turning Israel into another red (Republican) state.” Adds Shavit: “After Jerusalem turned its back on the liberal values of Democratic America, Democratic America decided to turn its back on Israel’s existential anxiety.”
For Republican partisans, this is good news — for their party, anyway — and the usual predictions of Jewish Democratic ship-jumping are already being heard. Dennis Prager proposes that Jewish liberals support the deal because “they only care about America,” which is an odd backhanded concession to those who accuse Israel’s supporters of dual loyalty.
But while turning Israel into a right-wing cause may feel good to conservatives, it is a disaster for Israel, which relies on the support of a politically divided United States. As the dust settles, Jewish leaders will need a strategy for containing the damage.
The New York Times reported Friday that the Iran debate has opened a “vitriolic divide among American Jews.” I thought the thesis slightly exaggerated and have seen much more vitriol from opponents of the deal than supporters. (I have seen no pro-deal, Jewish counterpart to critics like Dov Hikind, the New York State assemblyman who enlisted six Auschwitz survivors in condemning Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) for having supported the deal.)
And yet the debate has strangled the Israel conversation, which had already grown painfully circumspect during the Netanyahu years. Peter Beinart writes in Ha’aretz how “young American Jews resent the way the organized American-Jewish community limits free discussion about Israel.” That resentment is not limited to young American Jews — nor does the blame fall wholly on the organized community. In truth, a lot of us fall silent when a vocal few invoke the Holocaust in every discussion of Israel, or treat disagreement as a betrayal of Judaism itself.
As for the organized community, their mistake has been assuming consensus, when what we need is conversation.